Lebanon holiday decorations send coexistence message

A welcome change from the clashes and sectarian divisions that have plagued Tripoli

Christmas trees decorate a building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Christmas trees decorate a building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

17 December 2016

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Caretaker Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon visited Tripoli this week to see the city’s Rashid Karami Square decked out in holiday splendor. “Tripoli amazes us in its ability to overcome the difficulties it is being subjected to, and on its insistence to live, and to live in coexistence,” Pharaon told The Daily Star. “What I see before me today is a historic celebration which is on par with the world’s capitals’ [celebrations] ... and this proves that Tripoli is a touristic city if there is the will and the possibilities are present.”

The city held celebrations marking the Christmas holidays, a welcome change from the clashes and sectarian divisions that have plagued Tripoli. In contrast, it was competing Friday with other Lebanese cities for the title of most creative Christmas decorations.

The “Of Course We Can Together” organization was instrumental in arranging a series of activities and ceremonies to mark the holiday season. The group organized an Islamic heritage exhibit to mark Prophet Mohammad’s birth and lit a Christmas tree in celebration of the birth of Christ. The NGO also organized a street food market and a games section for children.

“I feel very happy Tripoli is celebrating the lighting of the Christmas tree to such a large extent in the presence of large crowds and performances that were exclusively held for the benefit of the people,” Violet Safadi, the group’s head said. “I call on all the people of Lebanon to come to Tripoli during the holidays so they can enjoy the brilliance of the city, its history, and its beauty.”

The Christmas tree, dubbed the “Coexistence Tree,” was constructed using 3-D printing technology and reaches a height of 25 meters. The organizers have raised hopes that the tree would be eligible for entry into global Christmas tree competitions.

Safadi stressed that consideration for costs of the decorations and events came second to the joy the occasion had brought to the city’s embattled people. “It sufficed to say that the city of Tripoli deserves the effort and ... its image as a touristic destination should be reinforced,” she said. “We should not be looking at matters through a financial perspective ... and we are betting on a massive influx of people from outside the city to achieve our objectives ... which is reinvigoration of the city’s public life.”

Although Safadi’s project has claimed the spotlight in the city, other smaller ventures and initiatives have also taken place.

The Nini Hospital set up their own Christmas tree, decorated with bold lighting, to mark a tradition now in its sixth year. The project is the brainchild of activist Johnny Nahas. “The Christmas tree was a personal initiative and I wanted it to be a message of love and peace to my city,” he told The Daily Star. “I grew up in a special society and have never suffered from sectarianism despite the messages of incitement issued by the media from time to time ... the idea of a Christmas tree at the entrance of Tripoli was simple venture which grew larger and larger.”

Nahas points to the city’s excitement as the reason his small pet project grew into the scale it is today. “At first I was alone and bought the Christmas tree and set it up with help from the youth of Muslim neighborhoods but we could not light it up at night,” he explained. “Things evolved in the latter years and the occasion of the lighting of the Christmas tree became an occasion for unity for the city’s sects.”

Even in years when the city saw fighting and division, Nahas would make it a point to set up and light the tree. “The rounds of fighting did not prevent me from erecting it ... last year we had an idea to write down the wishes of 400 orphans and hang them on the tree,” he said. “Then we granted their wishes and got them their gifts ... people race each other to the tree so they can grab the envelopes and make a child’s wish come true.”

At the Biaa roundabout as well, Lemon trees were covered with lights and decorated. Tripoli Mayor Ahmad Qamar al-Dine stressed it was a testament to their commitment to the environment. “It is a simple idea ... and we wanted to show you don’t necessarily have to cut down trees,” he said.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

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